AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s public safety commissioner said the LePage administration already has taken steps to address continued increases in property crimes that are directly related to drug addiction, but he said police alone cannot solve the problem.
John Morris, who has been on the job only for a few months, said the overall 2010 crime statistics for Maine that were released Wednesday confirmed what most public safety officials have known: More robberies, burglaries and thefts are being committed, particularly in rural Maine, by people who are feeding their drug habits.
From 2009 to 2010, the overall crime rate increased by 3.6 percent, fueled largely by increases in robberies (4.3 percent), burglaries (8.6 percent) and thefts (2.4 percent).
Morris said Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed budget commits to fully funding the Maine State Police, something that has not been done in years. The governor’s budget also includes an extra $700,000 to maintain staffing at the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, which has lost federal grant funding recently.
Adequate public safety resources are just one step to curbing Maine’s drug-related crimes, though. Education and treatment play a big role, too, Morris said.
“Prescription drugs are overprescribed,” he said, relaying his own personal experience recently in which he was prescribed painkillers for a month but needed them only for about a week. “There needs to be a better partnership between doctors and public safety officials. Doctors are only doing what they think is right, but I think there is an opportunity to have a conversation.”
Similar increases in property crime were evident in the 2009 statewide statistics, spikes that Anne Jordan, former public safety commissioner, also said were fueled by drug-related activity.
The Uniform Crime Reporting Division, or UCR, of the Maine Department of Public Safety tabulates crime numbers each year based on reported crimes from local, county and state law enforcement agencies.
Statistics show that 34,652 crime index offenses were reported to police during 2010 compared to 33,411 during 2009. Offenses are then indexed into categories, including murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft and arson.
Among other categories, the number of homicides and the number of arsons remained relatively unchanged from 2009 to 2010. Last year, there were 24 homicides, or two fewer than the previous year, and 245 arsons, two more than in 2009.
In other categories, sexual assaults increased slightly while domestic violence assaults were down. Morris said education and advocacy has played a pivotal role in reducing violence against women.
“Much of the credit goes to the the many support groups available in Maine to help victims,” he said.
Overall, Maine’s crime rate is still well below the national average.
Morris said when the current legislative session ends, he intends to put together a group of public safety, education and health care officials to brainstorm ideas for how to reduce drug-related criminal behavior.